It comes with a mixture of sadness and excitement that I leave the Sandy River Watershed Council after serving for two and a half years as the Community Engagement Specialist. The sadness part seems obvious, but I am excited to be a follower now, and see where Katelyn Hale, our new Community Engagement Specialist, leads the Sandy Watershed community.
I have complete confidence that the growth and community built during my time with the Council will flourish under Katelyn’s direction. Many years of experience in a great breadth and depth of engagement, and a strategic, creative mind are qualities that lead us to hire Katelyn. In the short time I have gotten to know her so far, I can tell she will be an innovative and essential member of the Sandy River team. We sat down together last Friday to talk about why we love the land and communities in the Sandy River watershed and what we’re looking forward to. Read on…
Katelyn Hale: Melissa, you started working at the Sandy River Watershed Council (SRWC) in September 2017. What’s the most fun time that you’ve had working here?
Melissa Cannell: The first floating Sandy clean-up. It was my second week working here: and in my opinion, it is the best event we have. We had a great group 40-50 volunteers. It was my first experience coordinating & event logistics, doing on water activities being an ex-kayak guide. It was my first time even in the Sandy!
My raft team found this change machine, like a laundry service machine, in the bank of the river. We were really dedicated to getting it out: we used our paddles to dig it out of the bank! Crafted all these stories about how it got there, it was so fun. And then we had a fun party afterwards.
That’s what’s so great about these clean ups: you find unexpected things! (Click here to read about the 2019 event.)
Melissa: You’re from California, and you’ve lived in Portland for 15 years. What’s the most fun you’ve had in the Sandy watershed?
Katelyn: Fun leisurely afternoons floating down the river starting at Dabney floating down to Lewis and Clark. That’s an awesome way to experience the river. Of course, leaving no trace, packing it in and packing it out. On a float last summer, I spotted a bald eagle landing on the top of a Doug fir. The river took a bend around it, so I spent 10 minutes watching this eagle. The Sandy is a really beautiful, peaceful setting.
I’ve also spent time backpacking in Paradise Park, about 7 miles west of Timberline Lodge. Paradise Park is this gorgeous alpine meadow on the west slope of Mt. hood. That was really exciting because the wildflowers up there are just breathtaking, it’s just so dramatic, and it’s right in our backyard.
Katelyn: What’s a project or partnership that you’re proud of?
Melissa: Working on the Alma Pacheco Memorial Garden. It was a project that didn’t seem like it would happen, but it felt important to prioritize it, to support the relationships we were building on Mt Hood Community College (MHCC) campus, and to support a community that requested our help with planting resources. Elizabeth wanted help creating a memorial garden for a Transiciones program alumna named Alma, who died suddenly in 2016. This was a more culturally-focused project and we made it a mutually beneficial project: we removed ivy and created a garden. There wasn’t a whole lot of funding, so we got really creative and persevered!
Melissa: What’s something that has prepared you for this work?
Katelyn: For a handful of years I worked at a farm-based youth leadership development program in North Portland. Most of the youth I worked with were teens of color who were first-generation Americans or immigrants, who knew a lot of cultures and languages I don’t. It’s hard to tell who learned more from whom. I loved sharing my passion for and skills in sustainable agriculture with the teen leaders and I was honored when they shared their passions right back.
Working in that program I was humbled learning over and over how diversity can make a community more resilient, and I’ve seen that in ecological landscapes, too. A field full of one invasive species, or one type of broccoli, can never provide habitat and clean water like a landscape with more going on can.
Over the past two years, I’ve been working for a local environmental consulting firm, writing communication and outreach plans for ecological restoration partnerships across the northwest. These two experiences– working directly in community and zooming out to plan outreach and communications–has given me some really useful experiences to enhance our social and ecological communities in the watershed.
Katelyn: What are you most looking forward to in the next 6 months?
Melissa: Ha! That’s a great question. I’m rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon! It feels like a fabulous celebration to ending my work at the Watershed Council. I’ll get to be on the water, fully immersed in river life, for three weeks. And then I’m getting married and celebrating my love that’s been cultivating for a long time. After that, I’ll be entering my third year in working for the National Park Service up in Seward, Alaska. I’ll be engaging with communities on a much broader scale, folks from around the world! Yes, it’s going to be awesome.
Melissa: What do you hope to accomplish during your time with the Sandy River Watershed Council?
Katelyn: I am looking forward to creating and sharing opportunities for you all to connect with the land, water, plants, animals, and each other within the Sandy Watershed. I am excited to work with my coworkers to build events and programs that are relevant and fun to diverse communities around the region. From Timberline to Troutdale, yes: there are ranchers, skiiers, workers, dog lovers, forestry professionals, Spanish-speakers, organic farmers, fishermen. I am looking forward to getting to know the watershed in a new and more intentional way and getting to know the volunteers and partners and hear about what you care about.
Katelyn: What will you miss about the Sandy?
Melissa: I’ll miss the partnerships and community that I’ve bee involved with here and grown into. And I’ll miss seeing our volunteers who come to event after event and getting to check in with them. Mm hmm, the community is what I’ll miss the most.
Thanks for reading! Katelyn will be spearheading the blog from now on. Thank you for making the past two and a half years wonderful. Here’s to many more to come.